George Callaghan was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1941, attending Caris Glen Primary School up the Old Park Road. At the age of four, his family emigrated to South Africa where he was unfortunately "educated" in the ways of Apartheid. He also became the "Western Province Boxing Champion" (Gnat weight division). At the age of 14, the impending death of his Grandfather forced the family to return to Belfast, throwing him, again unfortunately in the deep end of sectarianism.
George attended Ashfield secondary intermediate (technical section) where he attained 9 distinctions in his junior certificate. He left school at 15 to work at Nicholson and Bass (printers and box makers, Alfred Street, Belfast) as an apprentice commercial Artist. A year later he commenced studying Art at Belfast College of Art on a Scholarship (returning to Nicholson and Bass to work during the summer vacations).
A master of discipline and style, Callaghan’s early roots in the advertising industry are identifiable throughout his work. As an apprentice commercial artist at local printers Nicholson and Bass, Callaghan was very strongly influenced by his mentor Robin Holmes, who gave him the solid base of support and experience upon which he built a very successful career in advertising in Dublin, London and later Sydney. Whilst his career in the field ended at the age of thirty-two, Callaghan’s background in design and advertising is heavily invested in his work; his love of strong lines and flat perspectives dominate his idyllic countryside scenes and bustling cityscapes alike.
Following his move from the world of advertising, Callaghan settled in Tasmania where he pursued his love for art and music further. A reputable harp maker and player, Callaghan’s identity as an artist encompasses not only his work as painter but also as a committed luthier and all-round musician; identities which are strongly interchangeable and indivisible, according to Callaghan. Such fluid characteristics are a trademark of the artist’s work. Reoccurring patterns and shapes anchor every picture, from seas of Belfast shipyard workers to mazes of the medieval streets of Lherm, France, the artist’s inherent lyricism pervades every scene and his excitement for the ‘repetitive gestalt’ is tangible.
Callaghan’s work is most definitely in a category of its own; a category which the artist would label as ‘sophisticated naïve’ in style. Parallels can be drawn with Stanley Spencer’s preoccupation with repetition, Grant Wood’s localised surrealism and closer to home, Desmond Kinney’s undulating, cartoon-like hills and mountains. However, Callaghan’s trademark quirky style is undeniably unique and his preoccupation with infusing a sense of movement into the most static of scenes, in addition to his disciplined dedication to strong lines, culminate in heavenly pieces of idyllic, other-world aestheticism. Callaghan’s distinctive style is indicative of his uncompromising rejection of the regimented, artificial ‘teaching’ of art. Having attended the Belfast College of Art on a scholarship at the age of sixteen, Callaghan is quite clear that he ‘learnt nothing whatsoever…from any teachers’.
Whilst Callaghan now lives in Lherm, France with his wife Stef, he feels that his ‘Irish psyche can shine brighter’ when he is not living in Ireland. This is quite evident in work such as Ship Building, where Callaghan’s repetitive terraced houses and monstrously sized ships, which dominate the world of the miniscule workers below, are pictured against the distinctive backdrop of Belfast’s Cavehill. Callaghan excels at capturing the by-gone days of working class shipyard workers and the communities in Belfast which they thrived in, through his clever use of scale and repetition. His attention to detail proves critical in capturing not only the intangible ‘feel’ of such places, but also the rhythm of life across Belfast.